Robert W. Lore tells the reasons why he decided to defy convention and give up his last name when he got married.
When my wife and I got married last summer I decided to take her last name. In some sense it was simply a matter of personal choice in determining a family identity—in most marriages one name is taken to signify their new family and perhaps some could argue that this is all we did in becoming the Lores. Yet, for me, a man, to take my wife’s last name was different and it seems a story worth sharing. The decision and the response from those around us taught my partner and I a lesson in the pervasive power of social convention and of gender-roles, but more importantly it offered me the chance to learn about myself, my values, and the principles I choose to live by.
Grace, my wife, was simply not taking my name—she would not ignore the historical roots, the exchange of women as property and a practice where women became simply their husbands’ wives. But I didn’t want her as property; I didn’t think she was subordinate or the lesser! My wife’s strong and unmoving opinion should not and did not come as a surprise to me, but I did want a family and I did want a shared name for that family. Having rejected hyphenating our names (I wanted a family not a law-firm), I found myself in the position that many women and as far as I can tell virtually no men face—if I wanted a shared family name I would have to change mine.
My wife continued to field the question from friends, relatives, and strangers ‘are you changing your name?’ and while no one asked me the same, I began to consider the option seriously. It quickly became clear that there was no reason not to take her name except that it is something guys just don’t do. In a time where everyone I know believes in gender equality, the convention for choosing a last name seems to maintain an unquestioned double standard.
Before this experience I would say that it was a woman’s free choice to take her husband’s name, but having faced this decision myself, I came to better understand the social, logistical and familial consideration that one faces. “The emasculation will threaten your relationship” said a family member. “It’s simply not done” said one friend; to some extent it’s true, as far as I can tell there isn’t even an English word for my former name– “So you’ll have a maiden name? So…you’re a maiden?”, the same friend said pointedly. Countless others simply asked a very puzzled “Why?”.
Navigating these pressures proved challenging. It is difficult, I was quickly learning, to do something other than what everyone else does. But the puzzled looks and opinions against taking Grace’s name seemed to have the opposite effect in the end; their arguments were based on beliefs that simply did not reflect my values. It was assumed that I had some power or privilege to lose in changing my name that my wife did not and that my masculinity rested in a continuing tradition of superiority over women in general and my wife in particular. But it does not. My masculinity, my own power and strength comes much more from standing up for what I believe in and demonstrating the strength of conviction. Perhaps best of all, I was reminded of a younger version of myself who was interested in challenging the way things were done and living my way in a life that pushed boundaries, made others think, and was inspired by ideals. In the end, I remembered that this is how I want to live my life. So I did it. I took my wife’s last name.
Since our wedding, the response to my choice and our family name has been almost entirely positive. I received many comments from colleagues and acquaintances, mostly women, about how ‘cool’ it was for me to take my wife’s name and how lucky she was. While this offered some feel-good validation and signalled an undercurrent of changing perspective on gendered traditions, the recognition defined me as an anomaly and a rule breaker. It still framed me as doing something ‘different’ rather than offering an alternative that others may consider. I know the decision to taking my wife’s name was a political statement of sorts and I am happy to take on the mantle of male feminist. Truth be told, however, the honour in wearing the Lore name, comes not from identifying myself as a social critic, but from upholding the duty I have to protect, provide for and love my family unconditionally.